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Alberta begins welcoming people displaced by war in Ukraine

Click to play video: 'Ukrainians coming to Edmonton on donated flight from Poland' Ukrainians coming to Edmonton on donated flight from Poland
Former Alberta politician Thomas Lukaszuk has been part of an effort to bring to Canada people displaced by war in Ukraine. Prior to the plane's arrival at the Edmonton International Airport on Monday, he speaks with Sarah Komadina about what will happen once they arrive – Mar 28, 2022

An airplane carrying more than 60 Ukrainians fleeing the war there landed in Edmonton Monday evening.

Read more: Central Europe braces for more Ukraine refugees escaping Russian war

The flight, from Warsaw, Poland, arrived at Edmonton International Airport just before 7 p.m.

As passengers walked through the arrival gate at the airport, they were greeted by a crowd that cheered their arrival. Some of the passengers appeared exhausted and emotional.

“(We decided to) greet people because I know how important it is to come, even if probably they have families,” said Liliya Sukhy, an Edmontonian who has been spending her free time trying to help with the humanitarian crisis brought on by the war. “(It’s) important to (make them) feel that they are welcome here.

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“I have family in Ukraine: my mum, my four sisters. So I know how that is.”

Sukhy said it is stressful for many of those arriving from the war-torn country.

“They’re all probably terrified,” she said. “Many of them don’t know the language.”

“As far as we know, no cities have been occupied by Russia, but they are circling around and increasing their presence all across Ukraine, and that’s causing a lot of people to flee,” explained Orysia Boychuk, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’ Alberta Provincial Council.

“We know that a quarter of the population — that is 44 million — are currently displaced and fleeing.”

Boychuk expected about 62 Ukrainians to be on the plane to Edmonton.

Read more: Up to 250 fleeing Ukrainians coming to Edmonton on donated flight from Poland

“We’re very grateful to Polish LOT Airlines, to the Canadian Polish Historical Society and to private sponsors who made this happen.”

The aircraft was already coming to Edmonton as a “deadhead” flight, with the intention of picking up cargo to deliver to Ukraine via Poland.

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The donations were collected last week by the Canadian Polish Historical Society, an effort spearheaded by former premier Ed Stelmach and former MLA Thomas Lukaszuk.

LOT Polish Airlines provided the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Shell Canada donated 50 tonnes of aviation fuel for the transatlantic flight, the society said.

A LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner at the Edmonton International Airport in Edmonton, Alta. on Monday, March 28, 2022. COURTESY: EIA

For Lukaszuk, Monday evening was very emotional.

“I’ve gone through this experience. I was the one walking off the airplane, being greeted by Canadians with Canadian flags and being whisked away. And now, exactly forty years later, I get to do this for someone else.

“It’s very highly emotional because I know the turmoil they’re going thorough emotionally.

“But at the same time, I have to tell you, what a country we have, where two retired politicians in three weeks can muster this kind of support. We have over 300 tons of goods, over $20 million worth of goods that was collected, we have a donated airplane.”

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Click to play video: 'Ukrainian refugees navigating VISA issues in Canada' Ukrainian refugees navigating VISA issues in Canada
Ukrainian refugees navigating VISA issues in Canada – Mar 27, 2022

“We’re very actively involved in creating a very safe and welcoming opportunity for them as they arrive this evening,” Boychuk said. “We know that many of them have been exposed to some trauma, we know they’ve left family behind in Ukraine where they’ll be fighting for Ukraine’s freedom.

“So we know this a very delicate and sensitive time for these people who are arriving, and we’d like to create a safe haven for them in Canada.”

Most of the Ukrainians who arrived Monday are those with family connections in Alberta, Boychuk said.

Read more: Canada will allow Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war to stay for 3 years

Ivan Lypovyk was waiting at the Edmonton airport Monday night. He moved to Canada in 2008, coming from Ukraine as a temporary foreign worker.

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Lypovyk was planning to pick up five Ukrainians from this arriving flight: his wife’s cousin from Kyiv and their friends, a family of four from Chernivtsi.

He was expecting to host 13 people.

“But only five of them were able to get to the plane. Some of them literally were in the Canadian embassy this morning in Poland just hours before the plane, asking to get the passports, visas, to be able to get to the plane.

“One family with three kids, their passports with visas came one hour after the plane departed.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta families await arrival of relatives displaced by war in Ukraine' Alberta families await arrival of relatives displaced by war in Ukraine
Alberta families await arrival of relatives displaced by war in Ukraine – Mar 28, 2022

He stressed there’s no funding from the federal government to support these people when they first arrive since they’re considered workers, visitors or students, not refugees.

“We will do that with our own means – whatever we have – basically they’re going to live with us, we’ll help them get SIN number, Alberta health care, and right now, it’s a pretty stressful process.

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“Somebody has to translate for them, somebody has to help them fill out those forms. It’s a lengthy process.”

Lypovyk is also hoping the Canadian government streamlines the temporary visa application process to help those still in Ukraine.

“There is a process in place… there is an electronic travel authorization the Ukrainian community was asking for, like for every other European nation, when they get the fingerprints and all the biometric data at the port of entry.

“Nobody is prepared for war,” he explained. “Nobody lives their lives thinking someday they’ll have to have a full plan in place (for) how you’re going to react to the war and what you’re going to do.

“It’s so stressful. The families who left their loved ones in Ukraine, fighting for Ukraine, they’re mothers with kids, they have to flee through the border, they have to walk 10-12 kilometres through the territories, then they have to, for one month, be somewhere in Poland, to get through the pretty much regular visa process.”

Click to play video: 'New round of Russian-Ukrainian peace talks to start' New round of Russian-Ukrainian peace talks to start
New round of Russian-Ukrainian peace talks to start – Mar 28, 2022

The requirement for boarding this particular flight was that the Ukrainians had friends or family to host them, explained Inna Platonova, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress’ Calgary Branch.

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“We will do everything possible to help people fleeing war,” Platonova said. “I’m coming here and welcoming them, making them feel welcome, but definitely we need some government support to provide some vital assistance like housing and food and all those other things.

“There is no system of support to bring them here. Once they come here, there is no government support for housing or food for them to settle here.”

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress is lobbying the federal government to provide support.

“It’s good that the government is providing the open work permit for them for three years, but we are talking about a very vulnerable population. We are talking about women coming with young children and (the) elderly,” Patonova said.

Read more: Canada to create new program to welcome Ukrainians fleeing Russian invasion

“I think it’s unrealistic to assume these people will get a job right away, and will get a job that will cover the living expenses here in Canada.”

She said there are multiple levels of support needed: transportation, housing, food, child care, language and employment.

“People are coming here with a variety of needs. We all know they have been traumatized by the war.”

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Click to play video: 'Mother reunites with daughter in Edmonton after fleeing Ukraine' Mother reunites with daughter in Edmonton after fleeing Ukraine
Mother reunites with daughter in Edmonton after fleeing Ukraine – Mar 8, 2022

While Monday’s passengers will be connected with about 30 host families across Alberta, agencies helping bring Ukrainians here believe there will be more arriving, and some without a family or friend connection.

“We are developing a plan on how to ensure that the most vulnerable people and most in need, those who don’t have anybody here to host them, we can match them with Calgarians and people in the area that are generously offering their accommodation,” Patonova said.

“But there should be a system in place. We cannot just connect people on Facebook and they resolve it on their own. We need to go through the proper channels.”

Read more: Ukrainians with Canadian connection can’t get visa despite fast-track promise from Ottawa

Those arriving Monday must have a temporary visa, passport and some Alberta connection, Boychuk added.

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“These are family reunification opportunities.

“They were working very — trying to do their best — working as quickly as possible. We were hoping there would be more on the flight.”

“I think every day, every hour, the process is working and the numbers are increasing for people to come abroad.”

Click to play video: 'Vegreville man trying to bring Ukrainian family to Canada frustrated with federal red tape' Vegreville man trying to bring Ukrainian family to Canada frustrated with federal red tape
Vegreville man trying to bring Ukrainian family to Canada frustrated with federal red tape – Mar 23, 2022

However, Boychuk isn’t aware of any more planes planned to bring people from Ukraine to Alberta.

“This was a one-time situation where a private funder came forward. LOT airline donated this plane. It’s not part of a larger strategy at this point. We don’t know what’s really in store for the future.

“It’s definitely a very emotional time. It’s very challenging for many people and for our community, but we’re doing the best we can.”

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The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society is preparing for 350 displaced Ukrainians to arrive in southern Alberta in the next few weeks.

“When we looked at who might be impacted, there were three cohorts that we felt might be impacted: Ukrainians already in Canada, Ukrainians that could be (in) other parts of the world that decided to come to Canada… and those who have been evacuated recently,” said CCIS CEO Fariborz Birjanbian.

He said the Ukrainian community in Alberta, the provincial and federal governments and major Alberta cities are all working together to make sure those fleeing the conflict are welcomed.

“We already have 60 families who have offered to be the host for those who don’t have any family connection.”

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